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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1952 Bowman – Steady improvement, but over-matched


 The following article was written by Dean and published in the November 18, 2011 issue of Sports Collectors Digest.

 While 1952 Topps card set stole the spotlight for that particular year, the 1952 Bowman card set was anything but boring. It was simply overshadowed by the grandeur of the 1952 Topps issue. Bowman continued to slowly and steadily improve their product offering each year and 1952 was no exception.

While Bowman scaled back the number of cards in their 1952 set to 252 (their 1951 set featured 324 cards), the card size remained the same: 2 1/16” by 3 1/8”. The card fronts feature color player drawings, rendered by artists from black and white player photos. The main change that Bowman made from the previous year, was removing the black box on the card front that contained the player’s name. Overtop the player drawings are facsimile autographs, a design detail that Topps employed that very same year.

The 1952 Bowman are more attractive than the 1951 cards, but identifying a player from his signature can be a bit tricky on some of the cards, forcing a collector to consult the card’s back for identification. The simple card backs feature player statistics and an advertisement for the Bowman Gum Company, a first for the company since 1949.

The 1952 Bowman low number cards, cards 1-216, are very affordable and therefore more collectable than the 1952 Topps cards. However, the high number series of cards from 217-252 cost on average four times as much as the low numbers. Conversely, a 1952 Bowman high number common card will cost you virtually the same as a low number Topps common card from the same year.

All in all, the 1952 Bowman baseball card set is a nice set to own and is much more affordable than the 1952 Topps set. A collector can purchase an entire 1952 Bowman complete set for the price of a low/mid grade 1952 Topps Mantle.

By Dean Hanley
Owner of DeansCards.com

This article is taken from Dean’s upcoming book “The Gum Card War and the Great Bowman & Topps Baseball Card Sets of 1948-1955”, which is scheduled to be released later this year in both print and eBook forms. Please feel free to contact Dean with any questions or comments at Dean@DeansCards.com

Dean Hanley is an authority on vintage sports cards and has written numerous articles on the topic. Mr. Hanley is the founder DeansCards.com, and with well-over one million vintage cards in inventory, DeansCards.com is the largest seller of vintage cards on the web. Dean has also published “Before there was Bubble Gum: Our Favorite Pre-World War I Baseball Cards”, which is available in eBook form at Amazon.com

1951 Topps Red and Blue Back Sets - Topps gets in the game

This article was written by Dean Hanley and was featured in the Jan 13, 2012 issue of Sports Collectors Digest.

 The 1951 Topps Red Back and Blue Back baseball card sets were the first pure baseball card sets ever issued by the Topps Gum Company. Due to the cards being small size and total number, as well as plain in design, the 1951 Topps Red and Blue Back cards appear somewhat elementary when compared to the later Topps issues. However, despite their simplicity, the two 52-card sets managed to lay the strong foundation on which the company would build their baseball card empire.

Topps realized that their first attempt at producing baseball cards would fall short of the product that Bowman had continued to perfect over the last three years. With that said, Topps decided to use a gimmick in order to differentiate themselves from their competition. Thus Topps produced their 1951 Topps Red and Blue back cards in a way that created a game that kids could play. The cards measure 2” by 2 ⅝” and have a background and back design similar to playing cards.

The red back set has a total of 52 cards with two variations (#36 Gus Zernial and #52 Tommy Holmes have two possible teams), while the blue backs also have 52 total cards, but with no variations. The front of the card has the game printed on the corners and the player’s head printed in black and white in the center. The card number appears on a slant in the middle of the card. The cards also include a short paragraph of statistics in the lower left corner.

The most expensive cards in the 1951 sets include Yogi Berra from the Red Back set and Richie Ashburn from the Blue Back set. Of the 104 cards in both 1951 Topps sets, thirteen of the players would eventually be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall-of-Fame. Topps included all of the major league teams in these sets, ensuring that at least four players from each club were represented in the sets. For this year, the Indians had the most players on cards with eleven, closely followed by the Yankees with ten. The Reds, Tigers, and Athletics each had only four players pictured on 1951 Topps cards.

Sales of the 1951 Topps Blue Back and 1951 Topps Red Back cards were extremely disappointing. Ultimately, boys were the judges of which company made the best baseball card and in 1951, the boys placed their votes by giving their hard-earned pennies to Bowman instead of spending them on the inferior Topps cards.

Today, there are many more 1951 Topps Red Back cards in circulation compared to the blue backs. However, this was not necessary the case back in 1951. This is partially due to the discovery of cases of red backed cards in a warehouse in the 1980’s. The red back cards that were found in this particular discovery are usually easy to identify because they are in such great condition and the perforations can still be seen on the card edges. By the time the red back cards were discovered, the card collecting hobby had matured. Now more than ever, collectors were aware of the financial wisdom that stemmed from keeping cards in pristine condition. The blue back common cards are up to ten times more expensive than the red backs, particularly in the nicer conditions.

DeansCards.com has over a million cards in stock and our online inventory is a great indicator of card populations in the hobby. The current online inventory at DeansCards.com confirms that there are many more of the red back cards in existence today when compared to their blue backed counterparts. While DeansCards.com will usually have a nice selection of the 1951 Topps Red Back cards, we generally only have a few of the Blue Back cards in stock. Despite the major the Red Back discovery, there are far fewer 1951 Topps cards in circulation than any other Topps issue.

In most cases, a low card population means that the cards will have a high value. We all learned in Economics 101 that: low supply + high demand = high price. Both the 1951 Topps Blue Back and Red Back Sets certainly have a very low population (or supply) which helps to increase their value. The problem however, lies in the notion that despite their overall scarcity, demand for the 1951 Topps sets is low when compared to the other sets of the 1950’s. Very few kids collected the set back in 1951 and few collectors choose to pursue it today. As a result, the two 1951 Topps sets are still affordable, especially the more plentiful red back cards.


Bowman clearly had the best baseball card in 1951


Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, Bowman was busy making improvements to the baseball and football card sets that they issued in 1950. In one year, Bowman managed to increase both size of the cards, and number of cards in the set. In 1951, Bowman produced a very attractive set with hand-drawn action shots and a full paragraph description about the player on the back of the card. The 1951 Bowman baseball card set also had the advantage of star power. Two of the biggest stars of the 1950s, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, were under contract with Bowman. Thus these two superstar's rookie cards premiered in the 1951 Bowman set, once again giving Bowman an edge up on the competition. The product that Bowman presented to the market in spring of 1951 was clearly superior in every way to the Topps offering.



Recently, I was speaking with one of our customers who is in the process of buying every Topps vintage complete set ever produced from us. He is buying the complete vintage sets for investment purposes. With the uncertainly of real estate, stocks, bonds and cash and with the price of gold near record highs, buying vintage sets as a long-term investment is becoming much more popular option with investors than it has been in the past. 

We are down to the last few Topps sets, with 1951, 1952 and 1967 remaining. After considering the 1951 sets in terms of appearance versus cost, our customer decided to break the trend and purchase the 1951 Bowman Baseball card set instead. This story is typical and speaks volumes about the hobby’s opinion of the Red and Blue Back Topps sets of 1951.




Topps Toxic Taffy


 As if the design disadvantages of the Topps sets were not bad enough, the taffy that came with the cards turned out to be toxic. The cards were printed with a glossy varnish on them that rubbed off onto the taffy, resulting in a chewy substance that both smelled and tasted like paint. It was said that upon opening the packs of cards, you were almost overcome by the terrible odor.

At that time, the 1951 Topps Red and Blue Back sets were remembered more for the unpleasant odor of the taffy, than the cards themselves. Few card sets ever produced turned out to be such a complete disaster. If the dull and boring look of the 1951 Topps sets didn’t cause the kids to puke, the toxic taffy certainly did.

The vastly inferior product produced by Topps in 1951 failed to make a dent in Bowman’s dominance of the baseball card market. Topps lost money on its 1951 baseball card sets and sued the company that printed the cards that ruined the taffy. This would be the first and last time Topps included taffy alongside of their baseball cards.

Aftermath of the 1951 Topps sets 


Topps clearly had the inferior product in 1951. The Topps cards were second-rate in terms of design, card size, set size and the confection that accompanied the cards. In order to compete with Bowman in 1952, Topps decided that they had no choice but to take their legal chances and issue baseball cards with bubble gum instead of taffy. The “giant sized cards,” with colorful card fronts that placed an emphasis on the player’s face and attractive card backs that were packed with statistics from the previous year. Topps also gave up trying to make a game out of its cards and instead focused on creating a product so superior, that kids would abandon Bowman’s baseball cards altogether.

The 1951 Topps Red Back and Blue Back Sets may be failures if judged solely on design or profitability; however, the 1951 sets marked an invaluable developmental step on the way to the production of the modern baseball card. By the next spring, all American eyes would be back on baseball and Topps would be ready to take the sports card market by storm- forever changing the hobby.


By Dean Hanley 
Owner of DeansCards.com 

This article is taken from Dean’s upcoming book “The Gum Card War and the Great Bowman & Topps Baseball Card Sets of 1948-1955”, which is scheduled to be released later this year in both print and eBook forms. Please feel free to contact Dean with any questions or comments at Dean@DeansCards.com

Dean Hanley is an authority on vintage sports cards and has written numerous articles on the topic. Mr. Hanley is the founder DeansCards.com, and with well-over one million vintage cards in inventory, DeansCards.com is the largest seller of vintage cards on the web. Dean has also published “Before there was Bubble Gum: Our Favorite Pre-World War I Baseball Cards”, which is available in eBook form at Amazon.com

1949 Bowman – Adding a Touch of Color


 The following article was written by Dean and published in the November 4, 2011 issue of Sports Collectors Digest.

 In comparison to their 1948 set, the 1949 Bowman baseball card set was an improvement in both picture quality and quantity. The 1949 Bowman cards are the same size as their predecessor, but, instead of a bland black and white coloring, Bowman tinted the photographs of the players and added a colored the background. Bowman also drastically increased the size of the 1949 set, reaching 240 cards. This set also includes a high number series of cards (#145-240) that were issued in fewer numbers and are harder for collectors to find.

#50 Jackie Robinson
The 1949 Bowman set increased to 240 cards, therefore “rookie cards” account for nearly three-quarters of this set. For the first time, African-Americans appeared in a major issue of cards. The most prominent rookie cards in the 1949 Bowman set include are Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Satchel Paige and Duke Snider.

The 1949 Bowman set also has several different variations for many of the cards. The variations for this set include things like: “name on the front”, “no name on the front”, “print name on back”, and “script name on back”.

The 1949 Bowman cards were issued with both white and grey backs. Both backs were issued in roughly the same numbers and therefore have approximately the same value. The 1949 Bowman baseball card set was issued in seven series, consisting of 36 cards each. This was extremely efficient because each of the printing sheets contained 36 cards. The result is a very clean set with an equal population for each of the cards.

Has anyone seen card #4?


Not only was Bowman getting better at producing cards, they were also getting better at selling their cards. In 1949, Bowman tried a clever “marketing trick” to help increase sales for the 1949 set. Bowman intentionally “removed” card # 4 from of the 1st series printing sheet, by simply renumbering it as card #73.

This marketing ploy was designed to trick boys to waste some of their hard-earned change on first series packs of cards in the hopeless effort to obtain that elusive 1949 Bowman # 4 card. Collectors eventually discovered that they had to wait until the 3rd Series, which was released several months later, if they wanted to obtain card #4.

To the disappointment of many young collectors, Bowman had not been saving a superstar for card # 4, instead choosing to feature Jerry Priddy, a St. Louis Browns infielder with a less than remarkable playing career. Another benefit of this deception was that by including a card #73 in the 1st series, it was a clear signal to the kids that the set was going to contain more than 36 cards.

My guess is the ruse involving the #4 was treated with some distain by collectors, if it was even noticed by collectors. It is doubtful that this trick increased Bowman’s 1949 card sales by a large amount. As a business owner, I would imagine that the trust lost after pulling a trick like on their customers, far outweighed any extra profit made by increased sales. Either way, this ploy would never be intentionally repeated by Bowman (or Topps) again.

Left Coast Cards


  Bowman also tried to tap into the rapidly growing population on the west coast by releasing a 36-card Pacific Coast League baseball card set in 1949 that looked identical to the regular 1949 issue. These cards were distributed only on the west coast and in Bowman’s hometown of Philadelphia. The Pacific Coast League players were particularly popular in the 1940's and early part of the 1950's because there was no major league team playing there until 1957.


#28 Lee "Jeep" Handley
#28 Lee "Jeep" Handley













The Pacific Coast League cards can be easily distinguished by the "PCL" before the card number. Unfortunately, the PCL cards were not very well received and idea was discontinued after one series of cards; therefore, because they were issued in much smaller numbers, the 1949 Bowman PCL cards are much more expensive and difficult for today’s collectors to find than compared to the regular 1949 Bowman set.

By Dean Hanley
Owner of DeansCards.com

This article is taken from Dean’s upcoming book “The Gum Card War and the Great Bowman & Topps Baseball Card Sets of 1948-1955”, which is scheduled to be released later this year in both print and eBook forms. Please feel free to contact Dean with any questions or comments at Dean@DeansCards.com

Dean Hanley is an authority on vintage sports cards and has written numerous articles on the topic. Mr. Hanley is the founder DeansCards.com, and with well-over one million vintage cards in inventory, DeansCards.com is the largest seller of vintage cards on the web. Dean has also published “Before there was Bubble Gum: Our Favorite Pre-World War I Baseball Cards”, which is available in eBook form at Amazon.com.

The 1949 Bowman Article is dedicated to Rocky, a regular SCD reader, who was kind enough to sell us is 1949 Bowman complete set. Earlier in the year he also parted with his beloved 1950 Bowman set. Rocky, Please enjoy!

1948 Bowman - The Return of the Baseball Card

With the men home from war and the economy booming, the first major post-World War II baseball card set was released by the Bowman Gum Company in 1948. The 1948 Bowman baseball cards were issued in one-card penny packs that included a piece of bubble gum. The cards were much smaller than today’s baseball cards, and measured only 2-1/16” by 2½” and were printed in black and white. The front of the cards are very plain and contain no text, just a basic black and white photograph.

#18 Warren Spahn
Exactly one-half of the cards in the 1948 Bowman set were of players that played for the Giants or Yankees, while the NL champion Brooklyn Dodgers only had 3 players represented. This was probably a smart move from a business standpoint, as New York traditionally had the best teams, the most fans, and was the nation’s biggest market. Although, the 1948 Bowman baseball card was issued nationally, it is clear that Bowman was targeting its first post-war set at the island of Manhattan and would be watching from Philadelphia with great interest.

Because this was first major set of baseball cards issued since before World War II, the majority of the cards (62%) are rookie cards. Among the 30 players making their first appearance on a card, nine would be elected to baseball's Hall-of-Fame, which is a record for post-war sets. These future Hall-of-Fame players in the 1948 Bowman set include: #3 Ralph Kiner, #4 Johnny Mize, #5 Bob Feller, #6 Yogi Berra, #8 Phil Rizzuto, #17 Enos Slaughter, #18 Warren Spahn, #36 Stan Musial and #38 Red Schoendienst.

In 1948, Bowman was forced to use the photos that they had available to create the cards. The results were very mixed. Warren Spahn's card is probably the most disappointing rookie card of a Hall-of-Famer ever printed. Evidently, this was the best photo of Spahn that could be found before the printing deadline. The strangest card in the 1948 set has to be the one of Phil Rizzuto. This photo gives the impression that Rizzuto has a pillow tucked inside of his shirt.


Short-Prints, Double-Prints, and High Numbers 

As the first baseball cards produced in seven years, the 1948 Bowman set has some unique quirks. The 1948 Bowman baseball card set was designed to be issued in one series of 48 cards. The problem is that a printing sheet contained 36 cards, so the set would have to be printed in two separate sheets. It is unclear as to why Bowman decided to issue a set with only 48 cards. It could be that Bowman had signed contracts with only 48 players, which would explain the large number of players from the New York-based teams. A more likely scenario is that after a seven-year break in producing cards, Bowman had to re-educate themselves on the manufacturing process.

#8 Phil Rizzuto
The first printing sheet contained cards numbered 1 through 36. It was the second sheet that created the dilemma. The second printing sheet contained the remaining dozen cards of the 1948 Bowman set, but still had spaces for another 24 cards. The cost of a printing a sheet of cards is basically the same, regardless of the number of images or cards it contains. Since there were no additional costs involved, Bowman executives decided "double print" 24 of the cards that had already been included on the first sheet of cards.

According to most traditional price guides, the 1948 Bowman baseball card set contains 12 short-printed cards and 12 high-numbered cards. After consulting the DeansCards.com inventory, the surviving population of 1948 Bowman Short-Print and High Number cards seems about the same. It also appears that the same number of sheets were printed for both of the print runs, so my conclusion is that one-half of the cards in the 1948 Bowman baseball card set had twice the number of cards printed as the other half of the set.

Bowman quickly discovered that the printing costs for a 72-card set is almost the same as that of a 48-card set, so they quickly corrected their mistake by the time they issued their football card set that fall.. Bowman used this card size for several more baseball, football, and non-sports card sets until they eventually increased the size of their cards in 1951. It is interesting to note that the number of cards in each of these sets is divisible by 36, eliminating the problem of short-printed cards.

Luckily for collectors of the short-printed cards, the only superstar is #8 Phil Rizzuto. Even with 24 "short-printed” cards in the set, the 1948 Bowman set only ranks as "moderately difficult" to complete.


All Part of a Bigger Plan 

The Bowman Gum Co. knew exactly what they were trying to accomplish in 1948, therefore they were able to succeed. Bowman wanted to issue a “national” set and not be limited to just one region of the country; and that they did. The 1948 Bowman baseball card set contains players from 10 of the 16 major league teams.

The 1948 Bowman baseball card set was a very modest offering by all standards. Considered the most basic of all the Bowman sets, 1948 Bowman set was an important first step in the evolution of the baseball card. It was the first set of the modern era of baseball cards, and ultimately ushered in a decade great sets. By doing things on a small scale in 1948 – a plan that Topps would replicate in 1951 - Bowman learned some very valuable lessons and was then able to come out with a much larger and better set of cards the following season. Even with a virtual monopoly on the bubble gum baseball card market, Bowman would steadily improve its product offering over the next five years.

By Dean Hanley
Owner of DeansCards.com


This article is taken from Dean’s upcoming book The Gum Card War and the Great Bowman & Topps Baseball Card Sets of 1948-1955, which is scheduled to be released later this year in both print and eBook forms. Please feel free to contact Dean with any questions or comments at Dean@DeansCards.com 

Dean Hanley is an authority on vintage sports cards and has written numerous articles on the topic. Mr. Hanley is the founder DeansCards.com, and with well-over one million vintage cards in inventory, DeansCards.com is the largest seller of vintage cards on the web. Dean has also published Before there was Bubble Gum: Our Favorite Pre-World War I Baseball Cards, which is available in eBook form at Amazon.com